GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE AS ENGINEERING
Reading: Architecture, pp. 232--249 Suggested: Norberg-Schulz, Chap. 6; Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (on reserve)
This first look at Gothic architecture will concentrate on its development as a technical system.EARLY AND HIGH GOTHIC (c. 1150-1300): Dominance of France; cultural center in royal domain of north-east France (Ile-de- France). Revival of commercial activity during and after the Crusades; growth of new merchant class and guilds. Importance of cities as centers of cultural as well as economic life (cathedrals, universities). Systematization of doctrine: resolution of conflicts between pagan and Christian authorities, theology and secular knowledge, faith and reason in a grandiose synthesis. Thomas Acquinas: the Summa Theologiae.
Architecture: limited almost entirely to cathedral cities of north-east France. Plan determined by liturgical function (cf. Romanesque), greater concentration on the high altar. Climax of skeleton construction; ribbed vaults, applied shafts, flying buttresses, stepped pier buttresses, all in delicate adjustment, form extremely light, thin, skeletal framework. Walls reduced to diaphanous screens of tracery and glass; facade wall dissolved by sculptural decoration, enormous recessed portals, tracery and glass. Verticality through tall, thin proportions, pointed arches, continuity of vertical members. Opposing principles of logical clarity of vertical and horizontal divisions and emotional quality given by dim light (stained glass), and fluid vertical continuity, reconciled by extreme thinness and delicacy of divisions. Materials: ashlar masonry, glass. Rib-vaulted structure adapted to meet new requirements. Elimination of alternate support system calls for oblong rib vaults. Full explication of concentrated weight and thrust; thin shafts and piers, flying buttresses from spirelike stepped pier buttresses at outer edge of aisles to haunch and springing of nave vaults.
LATE GOTHIC world (c. 1300-1500): Formation of a new international culture supported by courtly and patrician upper classes: the Papacy; great nobles; bankers and business men. Combination of practical business sense and romantic revival of chivalry. Scholastic logic and system replaced by realism and sentiment, often merged with mysticism. Humanization of religious experience: growth of practical religion (Franciscans, Dominicans). Impoverishment of lower classes, accelerated by plague, civil and foreign wars (Hundred Years' War). Religious and social rebellions. Late Gothic period overlaps the beginnings of the Renaissance in Italy (c. 1400-1500).
Late Gothic Architecture: influenced by the requirements of new monastic orders and wealthy burgher class. Plan: frequent elimination of transept, numerous altar niches; hall churches. Adapted to needs of individual worship and to new emphasis on sermon and secular types. Plain exteriors; wide, often low interiors, broad spreading space. Emphasis on wall surfaces. Surface decoration: multiplication of ribs, shafts, etc., for decorative purposes; wall paintings. Little articulation on exterior or interior: rejection of High Gothic logic. Wide windows, often with plain glass.